Spanish Figary & Other Stories

Gillstay

Senior Member
Thanks!
I know not much about these things but that doesn't really hinder my enjoyment of them. The quantity of these beauties suggested that they provided some function and from a quick read it seems that the acorns are used to feed animals. Given that acorn fed jamon is popular I think found their purpose!
Thanks again

The wood also makes excellent charcoal and of course leatherwork and all those other industries we never think about now, but were thriving 200 yrs ago all used oak bark and wood.
 
Day 11 Thurs April 7

Riding into the Spring!

My spot last night, while unusual, was very comfortable. I was awake early-ish and set about making a breakfast of coffee, fried eggs, bread and cheese. It was a cold morning but I could see patches of sky and they were bright blue. With a longish wine affected day ahead of me I got packed up and set off.

I was happy to avoid the big town of Manzanares and took a backroad out of town into open farmland. I had all my layers on - it was cold and windy.

When I think of cold I don't (or at least I didn't) think of colour. Cold is always grey. Maybe white. Dark. Veering towards inhospitable. None of those descriptions apply to this country. But it's still damn cold!


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I suppose that some would find these roads boring but I'm surprising myself that I don't. I have certainly been spoiled in the Americas where views seemed to change around every bend and over every hill. By rights, straight roads, few hills and similar landscapes should be dull but I'm enjoying the newness, the strangeness. I'm not particularly enjoying the (cross)wind nor the cold but that's part of it. It'll get better soon. To lift my spirits I put on some music and happily cycled along.

Maybe if I had day after day of this I'd get bored....... but not today!
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Having stopped to take a photo, have a pee and remove some clothing (I was working hard against the wind) I was surprised to be flagged down by a car coming out of a dusty road off the opposite side of my road. Who was it but my host from last night! He was delighted to see me again, all questions about my comfort (it's a relatively new operation) and wanted an action shot of me on the bike. He was really enthusiastic. I also had the chance to ask about the plants I've been seeing and had a general chat about the countryside and what goes on around here. What a small world we live in! Again!

This is what I mean. Valdepenas and a statue of the Don. But nothing for poor Sancho. I'm actually starting to get annoyed.
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I set off again in great form and weaved and rolled through the interesting countryside. I'd a relatively long haul to my first town, Valdepenas, a wine town. I was amused to see the town billing itself as on a "wine route" as opposed to the Don Quixote "Literary route" - I guess that I'm more of a wine route kinda guy ^_^.

I arrived up and into the main Plaza in Valdepenas and had one of those "this is what I've been waiting for" moments! There were people! Lots of them! Most of them sitting on terraces and enjoying a drink or a coffee. There was a buzz, a life to the town - probably the first since Madrid. I immediately moderated my plans to leave and decided to soak up some atmosphere on a terrace with a coffee and a piece of tortilla. Bliss! Made all the more interesting and enjoyable by a pleasant waiter who practised his English on me while I reciprocated in Spanish.

I gave serious thought to staying - such was my excitement at witnessing a Spanish town alive - but it was way too early and besides, in an hour it would be as dead as the Spanish equivalent of the Dodo. I set off again.

As the day wore on I really felt like I've been travelling through the seasons. Well, two of them at least. Spring following on from winter, bringing all the colour
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Because of the cold weather I'm sticking with (mainly) asphalt for the moment. I've no idea where I'm going or what conditions will be like so a bit of caution is no harm. I found myself on an excellent road rolling through farming country, the only negative a hefty cross wind that made me work hard.

Torrenueva was the next small town to pass through and I had the Plaza all to myself and was able to admire their statue in honour of the humble donkey in peace.

Then it was back on to a pretty straight road and onwards to the town of Castellar de Santiago. I ate a simple lunch in the shade of the huge church washed down with fresh, cold water from the public tap. There was a reasonable option to camp at the Campervan area but this one was fenced and required payment via some kind of terminal. I really wasn't feeling it so I set off again.

Now this stopped me dead in my tracks. With horror! And revulsion! I was sorely tempted to ride up, bang on the door and let then know just what I thought of their monstrosity. I didn't because I didn't know what it was. A little research tells me now it's an Olive Oil factory. That's one brand of olive oil I won't use. Philistines!
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I knew now that I was off the "main" road and onto a single track road cutting through rural areas. My ideal goal was Santa Elena and an official campground (that has thus far not replied to my email enquiring if they are open) but that was looking out of reach by now, especially since there's a whole lot of climbing to do to get there. I'd provisionally thought of looking for a wild camping spot once I got on this road.

Right on the border with Andalucia I saw a turn off for a recreation area and pulled off to investigate. As it turned out a virtual maze of little paths opened out into "communal" areas that bore evidence of campfires and people. This late on a Thursday I'd have the whole area to myself - even if the signs did declare that overnighting was prohibited.

There's the food. The vino tinto. Cervezas con limon. The weather (although not so much recently). The coasts. The landscape. The food .... again. Spain really is a great place for a bike tour but there's nothing that fires me up like approaching a Spanish town.
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Totally hidden from the "main" road and well hidden from anyone on the "recreational" road I felt secure and set up the Trangia to brew up some coffee. I was following my usual "stealth camp protocol" of not setting up the tent until dark.
And this is the problem at this time of the year - it's bright until almost 9pm but it's bloody cold from about 5:30! And so it was tonight.

Ah, I don't know what to say. I can ride my bike from cold, slushy snow to this. It's amazing what a bike can do.
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And then there was a complication - people!

Somewhere between the road and myself a car had pulled up and I concluded that there were two guys. Because of the bushes - there were lots and lots of bushes - I could see nothing and while I could hear them my understanding was confounded by distance and accent. I had no idea if they were going to camp like myself or were there for some other purpose. I stayed low and slowly cooled down.

I wanted to eat but I didn't want to make noise and I certainly didn't want to fire up the stove.

I'm heading back towards the mountains and I'm smiling. What in Hell has happened to me?
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I came to the conclusion that there may be two cars - better for me as I reckoned it was two guys meeting as opposed to staying - because doors opened and closed, and engines started and stopped. Once a car seemed to move and I became hopeful but it stopped again.
As time went on I became more wary as to just what two guys were doing out here. It seemed a strange place to meet. One guy was doing all the talking.

As night fell I needed to move otherwise I'd be frozen solid so I slowly and carefully set about making up the tent.

Before the boyos arrived, my home for the night
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I'll tell you now - it's not easy to build a tent quietly! The rustle of the fly. Those shock cords pulling the pole segments together. I was convinced I was making a racket but I was telling myself that it was nonsense and that besides, the guys were only focused on each other. A hefty wind was still blowing too.

I got inside and set about getting my sleeping mat ready then lay down and listened. I was ready for sleep but didn't want to nod off until they were gone. In the dark, in the middle of nowhere, with two strange voices talking the imagination can go into overdrive, and while not particularly helpful to have a vivid imagination I was counting on it to keep me awake until they were gone and I was safe.

Ha! Dumbass! I fell asleep before I heard them leave.

Cycling along through rural Andalucia, the next campsite is too far away to reach in daylight but not a feck was given. I was confident I'd find somewhere to stop. The serial killing, cannabilistic, drug runners were a surprise
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Membrilla to Wild Camp (38.48029° N, 3.31216° W) 66 km Total KM 512
Min Meters 707, Max Meters 953
Total Climb 464, Total Descent 261
Min Temp 11 Max Temp 31 Ave Temp 22

Cycle Travel here

Strava Here

The Towns along the Way

Valdepenas
Torrenueva
Castellar de Santiago
 
The wood also makes excellent charcoal and of course leatherwork and all those other industries we never think about now, but were thriving 200 yrs ago all used oak bark and wood.

And wine casks and vats. Don't forget those! Of course, a lot of wine is stored now in stanless steel. They're clean, sterile, shiny and totally characterless with digital displays and lights and switches.
 
Day 12 Fri April 8

Not quite the four seasons but there's certainly more than rainy and not rainy!

Damn cold this morning! Awake at first light, close to 7am I dragged myself out a little later. There was no trace of my companions from last night but I was slow and cautious anyways.

Dawn. Almost 8 am. I survived the serial killing, cannibilistic, drug runners ^_^




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Heavy dew had left the fly of the tent soaking which meant that the outside of my sleeping bag was damp.
What happens is that in dropping temperatures or rain the silicone impregnated nylon fly expands and sags. It touches the inner at both the head and foot of the tent and transfers the moisture inside. Feckin' Exped.

At that time of the morning there was no point in waiting for the weak sun to help. I packed up and hit the road.

There's no-one around, just me on a quiet country road and the world is coming to life all around me
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Rejoining the "main" road my first job of work was to cross into Andalucia!
Andalucia! It sounds great! I know nothing about the place but for some reason it brings beaches and sun and warmth to mind. No harm after the last few days.
A decent single track road brought me up and down and around quiet, still country that was more green than in recent days. Hardly any traffic meant that it was just me and the birds! Even the wind hadn't started yet. Not a bad start to the day.

The plan was to hit Aldeaquemada down the road for a coffee and a little poke around. The little climbing I had to do had me overheating and the longer descending had me glad that I had nearly all my layers on! Cycling in this shoulder season is going to be interesting.

♥️
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My rough translation: This Plaza is named for Antonia in remembrance of her work in maintaining the customs and popular traditions of Aldeaquemada, to the special affection that all the children professed to her and, above all, in memory of the Happiness, Love, Hospitality and Generosity that she always showed to her town. Aldeaquemada will always remember her with love.

At first glance Aldeaquemada was like any other small town - dead. A group of older men outside a bakery stared as I wandered along and stared some more when I doubled back heading for the church. It was when I turned onto the little Plaza in front of the little church that the magic happened.

A beautiful, simple, stone church caught my eye first. Then a cafe that looked like it might be open. There's work going on at the old town hall, another old, simple but elegant building but my eyes were drawn to a tiled plaque on the corner of the Plaza. Before I'd a chance to read it, a man in a yellow sweater stopped to babble at me. Sensing my confusion he said "Oh", and restarted but with slower Spanish telling me of a building that I'd be interested in with local history. Very pleasant, very informal, he wished me a good trip and off he went. He spent the rest of my time in the Plaza running between the Town Hall, the Church and seemed to have a never-ending list of errands.

Back to the plaque. It was dedicated to a local lady and there was no mistaking the warmth emanating from those cold tiles on this still frigid morning. There is something that sings to me when a town remembers its own.

Time for a coffee and I had some toast too. Spanish toast. A baguette, sliced in half, toasted and served with olive oil and tomato.
A few years ago I'd have turned up my nose at such an offering, become grumpy if that's all I had to eat and whined and whinged to any companion unlucky enough to be breakfasting with me but these days I don't just tolerate it - I enjoy it!
Sitting on a sunny table, sipping my cafe con leche, crunching on a delicious combination of toasted fresh bread, oil, tomato and a generous sprinkling of salt I remembered just what bike touring in Spain is all about. Food! Glorious food! I'm going to be the fattest bike tourist ever! 😃

Then I was going up and into drier, rockier country with more trees. Cowboy country!
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I did go looking for the building that the man had told me about but the only tourist oriented building was closed. I debated about exploring some waterfalls a few kms from town but it's still cold so decided to get back on track and set off into a long climb.

It was a single track road but in excellent condition and it weaved up and around pine trees. The open plains, the dry, orange or golden soil was no more. The land was green or rocky and either rising or falling. Gradients weren't steep - at least not by South American standards - so I pedalled along listening to the birds.

With no traffic it's easy to believe I'm exploring virgin country
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A little past the summit I pulled in to where a closed building offered the chance to eat and dry out my tent. Then it was off downhill. Strangely, I descended about as fast as I ascended - the turns were sharp and with a narrow road it was better to be safe than sorry. There was hardly any traffic but with the wind in my ears and sharp bends I was effectively deaf and blind for anything but a short distance. At one stage, though, on a relatively straight section filled with a great variety of trees something urged me to pull in. Once stopped I could hear an amazing cacophony of birds chattering, twittering and singing in the sunshine. As I walked up and down the road soaking it all in I suddenly realised that I'm back in a place that has seasons! Four of them! And the birds were rejoicing in the start of Spring.

Bird Alley. I walked. I sat. I smoked. I hummed. I didn't want to leave. Spring has arrived and the birds were celebrating telling anyone who would listen.
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It may have been slow but it was great fun weaving around and down.

I'm getting old! ^_^ I took this bend so slowly I could stop!
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Off yonder I could see the Madrid-Cordoba motorway and as the descent petered out I passed under it, long, grey, concrete legs reaching down from it to my level. My road became a wide two laner with no traffic but I just lost my mojo. I could drum up no enthusiasm. Maybe it was the proximity of the motorway - above me - with all its noise or maybe it was just the dull, steady climb on a good but boring road but for whatever reason those last few Kms really dragged.

It's probably a sin but I looked down on the traffic on the motorway and felt far above them in all kinds of ways ^_^
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The Madrid - Cordoba Motorway up close! I wasn't feeling superior anymore! ^_^
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I arrived into Santa Elena and passed the sign for the campsite in favour of exploring the town. Incredibly spread out for such a relatively small place I meandered down to the Plaza and Church then wandered around looking for an open store. There was an air of resigned neglect to the place that is unusual. With nothing open I settled for a coffee in the one open bar then rolled back to one of the least welcoming campsites I've come across.

Santa Elena won't win any awards but the approach was very diverse. Wild or planted and tended I couldn't say and my phone can't do justice to the colours
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After a lot of waiting I finally got my pitch, set up the tent then set off on the bike for supplies. A disappointing shop I returned and brewed up some coffee and then made some dinner. Under trees so in the shade, the temperature was dropping fast and so I retired to the tent long before the sun was down.

42 km! Hardly a big day but a day that I got to see a little town pay homage to one of its own and listen to the birds announcing the arrival of Spring. Thank feck I'm not in a hurry.

Wild Camp (38.48029° N, 3.31216° W) to Santa Elena 42 km Total KM 554
Min Meters 560, Max Meters 1024
Total Climb 689, Total Descent 793
Min Temp 8 Max Temp 31 Ave Temp 21

CycleTravel Here

Strava Here

The Towns Along the Way
Aldeaquemada: https://photos.app.goo.gl/6jDTc1mvE7UGbjnT7
Santa Elena https://photos.app.goo.gl/mvVh33mLdMJmsV3k9
 
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Day 13 Saturday April 9


Are Orange Trees the new Palm Trees?

This alternating between stealth camping and camping in a campsite is a bit of a mental challenge. The night before last any "human" sound was a cause of concern whereas last night human sounds were a feckin' irritation. The worst was just before midnight when a late arrival had to have a shouted conversation, swing their car around several times, lighting up the tent each time and just generally being a jackass.

As a result, I overslept this morning, well, overslept in the sense that on waking at 6:30 I said "No way!", rolled over and returned to slumberland. It was still fresh at almost 9am when I dragged myself out.
Breakfast of couscous and coffee and I set about packing everything up.
I've forgotten how unprepared Spanish campsites are for cyclists, or anyone on a tent, really. Not a picnic table or anything to sit at. Not a place to sit and relax in the cold air. These circumstances don't exactly lend themselves to a detailed planning process and after a couple of cold nights I plumped for a bargain hotel room in a Pueblo Más Bonito.

Spanish campsites really aren't well set up for the comfort seeking bike tourist. Not a picnic table to be seen. Bare ground, although it beats gravel. The trees were nice though. This one was a bit run down.




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I set off just at noon - reception had been plastered with signs warning of a full night's charge for anyone not leaving before noon - and stopped off at a little shop for some fresh bread for lunch. Suitably equipped I set off for a relatively short day and one I expected to endure rather than enjoy because I'd be shadowing the Madrid Cordoba motorway for the day.

Ha! Dumbass! I underestimated the genius of CycleTravel.

Out of town I turned right and started heading up on a very quiet road, although popular with roadies of all ages. Generally friendly and cheerful, the friendliest was an old chap taking a rest at the top, sitting in the shade
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I was barely out of the town and across the motorway before I found myself in wonderful, mountainy country on a perfect road that weaved and meandered along. Birds sang and not a lot else made any noise. As is so typical on these roads traffic was barely existent but being a Saturday there were a few cyclists out, nearly all cheerful and happy to exchange greetings. It was very pleasant cycling even if most of it was uphill. Gently uphill. Not a swear, not a grunt out of me. I was thoroughly enjoying my cycling.

The trees were the stars of the early part of the day. There was a real fresh-from-the-hairdresser vibe from them. I was sure some had been blowdried like the old dears in the hairdressers.
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Then it was gently downhill and the countryside slowly changed to include more rocks. Lots of rocks. Boulders in fact. Piled up on corners of the road as if held up by some invisible force and scattered in far off field like discarded toys. What a place to bring kids and tell them stories of giants! Only giants could have done this with all these boulders! It was fabulous! Fantasy country! Off yonder in the distance a castle stood proudly on a hill - more stories. A few towers stood in various states of repair, follies, I presumed, some old, rich guy's testament to the world. I was in my element! I slowed right down so as not to miss a thing.

I'm not sure if it is but in my mind's eye this was a castle off yonder. Whatever it is it took a hell of a lot of effort to build the damn thing! Fuel for my imagination
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I could see on Gizmo that I was soon approaching the motorway again and sure that I'd lose all this fantasy country I slowed down even more. In all, it was only about 10km but what a distance I covered!

Then the rocks came out to play.......
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I did indeed encounter the motorway again, crossing it and then arriving in a small village outside of Carolina, Navas de Toloso. At first glance a well kept, prosperous village on the side of the motorway. The little Plaza had orange trees! Orange trees - with real oranges!! I can't explain it but orange trees light a fire within me! A real, definite, inarguable sign that I am most certainly not at home anymore! A tree with fruit that I might actually eat!

More far off things to make stories about......
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Giant's Play. Just how did that big rock end up in such a precarious place? Giants, of course!
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My elation at finding such a lovely little place didn't last too long though. A slow wander revealed that many of the houses were actually ruins, some without a roof, others with no innards.

An orange tree! With oranges! Thank feck the town was empty because otherwise the folks in the white coats would have been called!
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I rolled on and within minutes was passing Carolina so pulled off to explore.

Being a Saturday and not quite yet the siesta hour there were actually people out and about. I pulled up at an attractive Plaza and ate some lunch - cheese, chorizo and roasted peppers on fresh bread. Sitting in the sun it was heaven! I was warm! I wandered off exploring some more and even though there were people out there was nowhere near enough to represent the population. There were more than a few Plazas and a very long, wide and well-equipped-with-seats street running across the town. More than a few interesting buildings gone to rack and ruin too.

The advantage of being in town as Siesta approaches is that can get the streets to myself.....
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To Be continued.........
 

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Day 13 Saturday April 9


Are Orange Trees the new Palm Trees? Part Two

Leaving Carolina and onto a backroad. Sure, it's beside the motorway but I soon forgot about that fact on the tricky surface. Great fun!


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I set off again shadowing the motorway and the Touring Gods laid on the next layer of adventure - gravel. Steep gravel! In olive country. The motorway (below me) lost any significance as I concentrated on staying upright on steep ascents and descents and when I stopped my eyes were filled with an endless vista of neatly ordered olive trees as far as the eye could see. An impressive sight as the lines rose and fell with the hills, the only variety being the maturity of the trees and the colour of the soil.

Olive country!
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A group of gravel bikers came up behind me, bemused I think, to see a loaded bike tourist on these roads. They passed slowly, respectfully and very friendly. One of the leaders pulled along beside me for a chat then when he accelerated away his place was taken by another. I was a star! Then an older lady kept pace with me for a long chat, welcoming me to Andalusia - where there is no winter. That struck a chord within me and we both had a laugh about the snow earlier in the week. Then she was off, on her E-bike to catch up with the main group while the laggard pulled in to replace her!

They were a wonderfully friendly group and I was particularly interested in the different ages all out together, the older and more unfit equipped with E-bikes.

There's something about olive trees..... They can be very old, for a start. They're often gnarly and closely related to Tolkein trees. There's a bit of magic about them. When I get to cycle right through them there's magic in the air
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It wasn't just bikes that were out. Closer to civilisation there were walkers and joggers too.

The gravel came to an end in the small, pretty town of Carboneros with an almost impossible-to-photograph-properly curved church and then I set off cross country through those fields of olives I had been admiring. A single track road was all I needed - there was no traffic. Just me. And the olives. And a steep climb up to La Mesa. "La Mesa" means table. Do I need to paint a picture?

La Mesa. A no horse town! Just a few farmhouses scattered along a little road in the middle of olive country. And DumbAss wasn't particularly looking forward to today! ^_^
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There was only a small village, La Mesa, in this area, just a collection of stout, agricultural houses and a scattering of shy children who pretended to ignore the loaded bike tourist but couldn't help peeking curiously. Then I had the very definition of rolling country roads through Andalucia. With a crosswind it could be tough but it was incredibly pleasant. Feck that! It was great fun! Real adventure on real adventure roads.

Hereabouts I chided myself for my lack of enthusiasm this morning ^_^
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I was going too fast to take my hands off the handlebars so there was no drumming but I was singing and dancing on the bike as I went along here. Going downhill helped! And the world knows I can't dance!
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I passed through a prosperous town, Guarromon, the only people out sitting on a terras, and began the last leg to Baños de la Encina on the roughest road so far.

When the olive trees disappeared the Touring Gods made sure I wasn't disappointed too much
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There's a reason for heading to this town - it has an impressive castle towering over everything and from quite a distance away the big castle was visible and there's nothing quite like a big castle to inspire this traveller. Generally upwards and with a crosswind it wasn't the fastest part of the day but I was in no rush.

Then the olive trees came back! I'd love to spend a night under an olive tree but there's something about it that strikes me as disrespectful.
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The town is hilly - steeply hilly - with narrow streets and one way traffic. I aborted my idealistic plan to explore the town and hit the castle so heaved and swore and sweated upwards to the hotel. Checked in and showered, I set off to explore.

Am I ever going to get bored of approaching Spanish towns? Not if they stick a feckin' castle up top!
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For a day that I was feeling "meh" about at the start, and for a day that managed 40km of progress it was feckin' fabulous! Great roads, friendly folk, adventure and beauty everywhere and a little bit of mystery too. Then a bloody big castle to finish it all off!
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Day 13 Saturday April 9
Santa Elena to Baños de la Encina 40 km Total KM 594
Min Meters 337, Max Meters 771
Total Climb 373, Total Descent 670
Min Temp 17 Max Temp 36 Ave Temp 28

CycleTravel Here

Strava Here


The Towns Along the Way:
Navas de Toloso
Carolina
Guarromon
Carboneros
Baños de la Encina
 
Day 13 Saturday April 9 Baños de la Encina

The Spanish are really good at Tourism! And not just the beaches. I've seen German and French and British campervans all over Europe but Spain is swamped with Spanish ones! I genuinely think that few Spaniards take their campervans outside of Spain because there is so much to do in Spain. There are places like Baños de Encina to visit!

The town as viewed from the castle. Getting around involves a whole lot of climbing and weaving and doubling back. There's not a single straight street. And lots of one ways!


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The Spanish, too, are organised and appear to like categorising everything.
Combine the two concepts of Tourism and Organisation and we get concepts like "Pueblos más Bonitos" - The Prettiest Towns.

It's a steep town of (mainly) white houses but the streets are interesting. I'm rarely able to see to the end of the street so I'm drawn along and hither and tither exploring. There's practically no-one around to interrupt me or question what I'm doing.
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There is no shortage of Pueblos Más Bonitos! There are also White Towns and Magical Towns.
A sign proudly declares Baños de la Encina as a Pueblo Más Bonito and there is no doubt that it's a pretty town - a very pretty town.
That much is clear on the approach - the castle dominates everything and in these times when I don't have to worry about burning pitch being hurled at me and a blue sky as a backdrop that's a pretty sight.

From a distance there is no doubting just how imposing the castle is. Visible for miles and must have given many potential mauraders a banquet for thought. The reality, though, is that it's very narrow, has no roof (not sure if it ever had) and it left me with the impression that it was more illusion than reality. I'm also confused as to just how it can protect the town, being, as it is, completely separate.
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Narrow, but steep streets are pretty too - pretty hard to walk that is, but even harder to drive - and full of history. White houses are higgledy piggledy stretched along these streets, some in perfect condition and some little more than a facade. Little corners are made into a calm, peaceful oasis with a bench and a tree or two. More open spaces have bigger trees and a dominant church - surprisingly dull architecturally for such an impressive village, although I did like its rustic charm. In such a high town the views are impressive. In one direction I get to cast my eyes over a flat, fertile plain while in another direction steep, green hills rise sharply out of the ground.

A typical street scene. First of all, it's winding ever upwards. Secondly, it's got a mix of housing designs and quality. On the right is a photo taken through a broken window shutter showing a house that seems to have been deserted as opposed to moved out of. Even the tablecloth has been left!
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As I wander around there is no doubt that it is incredibly pretty.

But.

And there's always a but.

It is very, very quiet and I find that unsettling.

On the one hand it's great - my imagination can work unfettered and undistracted by any kind of reality and I really feel like an explorer. On the other hand at various times I can feel like an interloper or just plain lonely.

As always there are interesting, historical doors. And lots of "portrait" shots because the streets are too narrow for landscape! ^_^
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On the unloaded bike I headed for the Castle and enjoyed a full, circular path all the way around. However, that exposed the reality of the situation - the "castle" is little more than four walls and doesn't even possess a roof! It's not particularly big and quite narrow.
I arrived at the doors after it had closed but managed a quick peek to see some mannequins dressed in old military gear, the walls and the sky! It wouldn't be open again until late on Sunday. Spain may be a "Tourism" country but its hours take getting used to!


A pleasant, rustic church (not the main one! Yes, even a town of this size has several churches). The fact that it's not white helps it stand out. Best of all is the big bird's nest on top! I love that!
Some kind of a procession float in the main church. A second clue for something that flew totally over my head.

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Back outside there are information boards outlining the types of animals and birds that live in the region and below the castle there is a campervan parking area - a great location for anyone in a van but it wouldn't have been very comfortable for me. I really like these information boards. They're a chance to expand my Spanish but more importantly I'm learning a bit about the place I'm travelling through. No research means that my mind is a blank canvas.

A weaving, wandering río that caught my eye……. The views are amazing!
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Later, I took another wander and picked the busiest place for a vino tinto and a tapa. It was full of people - it was the only place in town that was open.

The Plaza. Small and quiet. Peaceful and pleasant.
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It must be very interesting to live in a place like this. Very different. A car would be needed because of the isolation but there are few places to park a car at your house in the old town (on the edges are some newer buildings). Social life is limited. There are a few bars but choice is limited. It is very, very quiet. Teenagers must find it challenging. There's not a lot of them and social activities must be severely limited. Older folk, too. It's hard enough for me to get around. With worn hips, dodgy knees or breathing difficulties it must be very difficult.

Hilly towns have the best views! The odd roofs in terms of colour, design and orientation mean that it's not just "white" and uninteresting. Then there's the fields stretching off into the distance with some scattered buildings and ruins dotted amongst them
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One of the great things about a short day and the relatively late hour of sunset (+/- 9pm) is that I have both the energy and time for a bit of exploration at a nice relaxed pace. The fact that it wasn't brass monkey weather helped a whole lot too!

The castle may be all fur coat and no knickers but it does look good at night ^_^
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Day 14 Sunday April 10

Magic in the air

Wandering around last night I spied a río meandering away through the hills with a rough but cycleable path alongside it. A little reading later revealed that it lead to a dam and also to some old, old ruins. That inspired the idea of taking a meander through the hills, away from civilisation and a wild camp before heading south towards Córdoba. Unfortunately Spanish custom and law collided with a smoker's need for nicotine so with no ciggies and no option to buy any (at least until I got to a town) I decided to stay on course and head directly….ish to Córdoba.
(Cigarettes are quite tricky to find. There are tobacco stores and that's it. Some bars will have a machine as will some petrol stations. My hotel had none and the only café open this morning in the little town had none.)

Early morning view with mist rising off the plains and mountains in the distance……..


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Any hesitation I might have felt passing the turn off that would bring me out to the dam and adventures beyond quickly dissolved as I found myself on yet another magical 10km (actually 11) stretch of road that meandered through olive trees.

The road not taken. You can make out a rough path through the hills that leads to a lake.
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A few people out tending their trees, a couple of tractors parked up, one car and a handful of pleasant, cheery cyclists were my company. And birds. Lots of chattering, singing birds. The sun was out, the sky was blue but there was still a chill in the air that meant I was just about the right temperature for rolling along. Soulful stretches of only nature sounds were very good for the soul. I'd a provisionally long day ahead of me but if it was all like this? Not a problem.

Not long on the main road and I turned off onto this. A beautiful morning, friendly cyclists, olive trees and singing birds. Bliss
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I was seeing nothing I hadn't seen before - the old, gnarly trees, the ploughed soil, the "safe spaces" round the trees, the gentle rise and fall of the road - yet I wasn't in the least bit bored. Early morning with the whole day stretching out in front of me I had the sensation that time was standing still.

Never boring, never dull…..
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Like in rugby when the ref calls a penalty but allows the advantage I had the sense of a "free play" - I could do anything, go anywhere and so what if I fecked up - just look at where I was! The realisation dawned on me that for the past little while, since I gave up on the Don's route, riding on what could be termed boring roads, this sense of time standing still is what is keeping me engaged.
I'm not racing a clock. I rarely have a fixed destination. I have the freedom just to "be", to respond to what's in front of me and around me.

Damn, but I'm lucky!

The road's a bit rough but that just means I get to appreciate and get to know the olive trees.
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Of course the good stretch had to come to an end, and it did at the motorway (today was another day I'd cross it several times). But Cycle.Travel isn't just good - it's feckin' great! A little along the motorway on a service road then back out into the country - different country (having picked up my ciggies in a motorway services). Less olives, more "normal" agriculture with more houses - and dogs! The dogs are all fenced up but that doesn't stop them barking loudly and running along the fence! Big farm dogs they are, a tad intimidating but with big shaggy coats that make them very huggable! These are big, big dogs of a breed (or cross breed) that I don't know. Their size is intimidating to be sure but their voices are so deep (because of that size) that it's hard to detect any malice in their barks.

There's always an interesting tree or two….
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Approaching the first big town of Andújar I stopped off at a little park for water and to sit and eat some lunch. Set up on the edge of town it has a (1.5km) cycle route and walking paths through trees and plants. Quite a few people out power walking or passing a family afternoon. Then on and into the town proper.


At first, I was terribly impressed! There were people! And lots of them! Very pretty people! Very stylish! Andalucia is my kinda place!
Then I meandered into the centre (it's one of the bigger towns so far) and my attitude started to change. Too many people! Unusually for me on the bike I started to feel self conscious in my raggedy clothes - such was the style on display. At one point it was so busy I had to get off and walk the bike. A lot of streets were closed off to traffic of all kinds.
It's Palm Sunday and there are processions in these towns. It's a big, big day! I could see the tail end of a procession on one of the streets but gave up trying to catch up with it because of the density of people standing, eating, drinking and chatting. The Spanish talk a lot!

I dithered about staying - a part of me wanted to soak up a Spanish town at play but another part felt very out of place. All the terraces were full with families and groups - Johnny-no-mates traveller is the square peg trying to fit in the round hole. A quick check on Booking made the decision for me as prices were astronomically high so I weaved my way out of town. On the edge it was so calm and peaceful again. I crossed an old Roman bridge (or so it is claimed) and entered a different, calm world.

Ha! I spend ages complaining about how dead Spanish towns are then when I find a lively one I find something to complain about too!

Cacti, wild flowers and olive trees. And I get to cycle right through them all. What's also interesting is the different approach to olive tree care. The ground under the trees is diligently cared for on the right, but a different approach is taken on the left.
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I had a blissful few minutes in the countryside before hitting the motorway again then more countryside. The next town would be smaller - perhaps I could soak up the festivities there.

Much later in the day and heading towards Villafranca de Córdoba the winding road and captivating sunlight just draws me along…..
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Smaller it was, and pretty, but the parade in Marmolejo was long over (I passed two little drummer boys making their way home). A couple of terraces were busy but that was all. Again, all groups and families. Fiesta time. I located a park, sat in some shade for a while, topped up my water and set off again. There's a definite sense of "otherness" on a day like today. I'm solo as opposed to groups and scruffy as opposed to dressed to the nines. It's not often I feel like that on the bike.

Now I was in the full heat of the day. It's so hard to believe that only a handful of days ago I was freezing and bound in by snow! Top temperature today was 40C! This heading south is really working!

By now the country has totally changed. Gone are the olive groves, the rough soil and rocky outcrops and in come large, fertile plains. Travelling on a bike is feckin´ great!
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I stopped again in Villa del Río, eating lunch outside the church. Very, very unusually for Spain I struggled to find a bin. Spain is great for bins! They are everywhere and make life very easy for the traveller who munches as he goes.
Lots of terraces busy with families had me feeling like the outsider again. Finding water was hard but I found a fountain at the end of a long plaza thanks to Osmand.

Then it was back out to open country on small roads weaving through rolling hills. A few off-road sections added to the adventure and as the sun was setting I was close to the small village of Villafranca de Córdoba that has a small, friendly campsite outside it.

Before that though, Mother Nature had another blizzard for me to contend with. Not snow. But (what I think are) dandelion seeds. You know those fluffy things that you can blow? Well I encountered a veritable tsunami of them - so many that the road was turning white! No photo could do them justice but on a quiet, country lane with the sun sinking and the light coming at me almost horizontally it was a magical, wonderous few minutes.

A crappy road, an even worse photo but magic, magic everywhere in the air. I hit a blizzard of fluffy seeds on the breeze. Feck the fading sunlight, I had to stop. You can see the white on the "road" from where the Touring Gods were laying down a path for me to follow
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There seems to be a little magic in the air every day!


Day 14 Sunday April 10
Baños de la Encina to Villafranca de Córdoba 103 km Total KM 697
Min Meters 114, Max Meters 442
Total Climb 674, Total Descent 931
Min Temp 17 Max Temp 40 Ave Temp 29

CycleTravel Here

Strava Here

The Towns Along the Way
Andújar
Villa del Río
Marmolejo
 
Day 15 Monday April 11

Daytrip to Córdoba

The campground in Cordoba is closed! That's what I discovered last night! And Booking had nothing in my price range. I'm a little shy of 30km away from the city and there aren't many camping options on the far side to give me the chance of exploring the city and reaching them.
I slept on it and in the morning to add insult to injury the weather forecast was pretty poor. They have April showers in Spain too! That was going to make wildcamping uncomfortable. Feck it. I'll stay an extra night and do a day trip.

Mother Nature is a sneaky temptress. This was on my way to Córdoba - the way home was rain, rain and more rain!


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I wanted to see Cordoba properly, not just pass through it. I don't know why - I know nothing about the city but even the name sounds mysterious and inviting.

I set off on wonderful, twisty, hilly backroads and relished the lightness of the bike. I entered the city via the University on dedicated bike paths.
Ah, I am so glad I gave myself the day to explore properly!

Bright sun, warm air and just one of many, many parks. Life is good.
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The city is simply wonderful! I had a map in my ass pocket from the campground and it stayed there! It's so much more fun to just explore.

This is Game of Thrones territory with various real medieval feel. And that's the key word - feel. I'm not seeing these places so much as feeling them. They hit so many senses, not just sight. My skin prickles with excitement as I wander around.

Córdoba has one of things I want in a city .... a río! And even though I'm right beside the city it's wild. Wonderful!
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I had business to attend to. I want to upgrade my camera. I'm not at all happy with the lighting and colour of the photos my phone is taking. They have none of the clarity of the old phone. My point and shoot camera is dying too. In sunshine the proper colours aren't being represented (or at least as best as I can tell on the phone screen) and in dull weather the shots are too dull, too dark. I know nothing about cameras so I'll need some help.
An old school camera shop did the trick. I waited my turn while an old man patiently helped a couple of people and then it was my turn.
I tried to explain what I was doing and what I needed, expressing a preference for a camera with GPS - it really is useful, especially in conjunction with Google Photos.
While I'd been waiting I'd scouted out a few of the models on display and was a bit sceptical of what he suggested. According to the internet the photos were not of great quality. When I timidly suggested this he straightened in frustration and assured me that the camera would take no bad photos. I might! But the camera wouldn't! I bought it.

I wouldn't normally be a fan of riding into a big city but either I've changed or Spain is really kind to bikes......
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Cordoba has a lot of the things I look for in a city. It has a river for a start! And a river in a medieval town means fantastic bridges! And because this is Spain that means bridges that are free of traffic!

A doggy park!!! The first (I think) since México! Córdoba is rising in my estimation. No dogs, though ^_^
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There is an awful lot to be said for standing on a bridge and admiring a medieval city as the modern world of people bustle by.
Over there is the old world where my imagination can run riot and passing by me the new world. Teenagers and OAPs walking, holding hands, the family with the child throwing a tantrum, the dogs stopping to sniff each other, the tourists with maps out racing from one highlight to another and all the babbling voices in different languages (after Madrid Cordoba is the first place I've heard English spoken).

Postcard from the edge. Pleasantly wild with interesting things to draw me in
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The centre around the Cathedral is all decked out with viewing platforms and banners. Palm Sunday parades perhaps. This has the effect of making the open spaces narrower and more busy. The old Town isn't exactly bike friendly but I push and explore down little cobbled streets with something to see on every corner. The Cathedrals leave me cold. The religious displays on some of the corners sing to me.

A castle, a bridge, an old cathedral...... time travel is possible
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There are churches and Plazas and parks and statues and fountains everywhere, each requiring a little time to appreciate. I am feeling no rush at all. I have all the time in the world, or so it seems. Spain is going to be home, I think. I can return here whenever I want. For the laid back bike tourist that thought makes me almost horizontal^_^.

Along the río a park
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The weather is beautiful - I'd imagine these narrow streets and sun enhanced buildings would be very different in the rain - but I know bad weather is rolling in.

And the río again. I do like my ríos ^_^
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While the old Town is not exactly bike friendly there are numerous excellent bike paths around the edges and along the river so I can explore freely and swiftly as I like. Eventually, it's time to hit the road and other than a closed gate at the University that requires a careful detour I have an enjoyable, if cold and wet trip back to the campground.


Cordoba - definitely worth a visit!


Villafranca de Córdoba to Villafranca de Córdoba 57 km Total KM 754
Min Meters 100, Max Meters 181
Total Climb 520, Total Descent 478
Min Temp 18 Max Temp 29 Ave Temp 25

CycleTravel Here

Strava Here
 
Day 15 Monday April 11

Daytrip to Córdoba

Just one of a few human powered only bridges with a "working" shrine. (Working in the sense that candles were lit). It was very pleasant to pause and have the touristy world rushing past me, or to look down on the slow moving, mysterious río or to turn my head and gaze upon wonderful old buildings.
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There's no doubting the Arab influence in the buildings here but it's the detail that can keep me absorbed for ages
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In Madrid they were mainly bare and skeletal, in Toledo there were very few, in Córdoba the trees are alive and enhance everything
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There's no doubting the impression that the big, grand buildings make but the small ones, the odd ones, they capture me and entrance me
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I thought they had a very laid back approach in Córdoba to removing the Palm Sunday decorations........
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Never mind the fanciness of the Cathedral, the luxurious altars, the towering spires..... this little display, neglected and ignored topped them all
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There's a never ending, ever different series of views
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And there's always a little park......
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Or a particularly grand Plaza



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Córdoba - definitely worth a visit!
 
Day 16 Tues April 12

Spanish Train stuck in the mud!

Rain was forecast this morning and rain duly arrived. A light drizzle but enough to make me a bit slow and cautious. I had decided to take a back road towards Cordoba but with the rain opted instead to take my route from yesterday.
Oh yes! I should add that now the weather is a bit warmer and snow is unlikely (current forecast excepting) I've decided to veer off from Almería as my "big" destination and head towards Sevilla if for no other reason than I'll get to ride the length of a Via Verde! This not having a plan is great!

New Camera! Not the greatest weather for it!


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Last night I'd plugged in my power bank in the bathrooms and when I returned at bedtime it was gone! I was very peed off! This morning as I paid my bill I spotted my power bank in the office! They don't like people charging in the bathrooms!

The rain darkened the early part of the day but by the time I reached Cordoba the sun was coming out. Inspired by the place and the increasing sunlight I checked Booking again but everything was still far too expensive. I weaved through different parts of the city to yesterday and soon was on the far side in an industrial area. Ahead of me lay a Via Verde - an old railway line converted for cyclists, walkers and horses. With few services ahead I spied a café and pulled up for a coffee.

Spying a copy of LA Marca, the Spanish sports newspaper, I asked the friendly barman if I could borrow it and this is how I found myself outside, smoking a ciggie, having a rich café con leche and understanding a Spanish newspaper as trucks and vans of all shapes and sizes rumbled past.

Sometimes the images that define a journey are not quite what we expect
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An idyllic spot for a bike tourist to pass a little time it certainly was not but as a marker of how far I have come on this journey of mine it was momentous and immensely satisfying.

I set off with much enthusiasm despite a drop in the quality of the weather - blustery and gloomy - and after a roundabout left the heavy traffic behind. I had about 6km to go before hitting the Via Verde and was glad that I had Gizmo because otherwise I'd have missed the turn so hidden was it.

The start of the Via Verde (de la Campina). Information boards, some rules (nothing about camping!), a map, and as speed limit sign - 10kph. That limit was not going to be troubling me ^_^
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I stopped for a moment to appreciate the quietness and stillness and to read the information boards. There's a map with information on interesting places and also where there are services. I was pleased to note that there were no "no camping" notices as I was expecting to wild camp along the way. A wonderful sense of calm descended as I pedalled off.

And off we go.......
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My mind wandered down a musical path and landed on some old, old music. Chris de Burgh's (yes! I have an eclectic taste 😀) Spanish Train, an appropriate song for the road today as the song has Sevilla as a destination. And indeed this Travelogue.

The first few kms were easy enough. The surface was mixed, some compacted earth, some gravel, a few puddles from the rain. Nice, pleasant cycling through interesting country.

Still rolling. Not the easiest cycling but interesting country
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Something must have changed in the composition of the soil because the earth became less compacted, more sticky and more muddy.

And then some more.

I had to stop and unclog my mud guards but that was a price I was happy to pay to be cycling along here.

And then some more unclogging.

And then even more!

Farming country
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My sandals were becoming clown feet as the mud stuck to them, set, and then more mud stuck to that.
Sticks were no longer strong enough to clear the mud - I broke three in a row so I dug out a tent peg and skinned my knuckles.

Getting trickier!
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I was no longer happy with the price I was paying!

Parking the bike I walked on (well, waddled would be more accurate with my big clown feet) and could see no respite for a while.
Stuck! I couldn't go ahead and I could hardly go back.
"Via Verdes are great for cycling" bounced around mocking me in my head.
In three hours I had covered about 1 km!

A tunnel was a very brief and very welcome respite from the mud
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I hadn't met a soul and I was in the middle of farming country. A bit further along the path widened out with enough space at the side for my tent.
I was almost home!

Panniers off and let's all appreciate the feckin' mess I was making!
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I set up, stripped the bike and cleaned it as best I could before eating and climbed into the tent. I slept very well!

Tomorrow will be better!

Home! (The next morning!)
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It's funny that as I write up this day much, much later the predominant thought is not the misery of getting stuck in the mud (and it was feckin' miserable and very frustrating!) but the intense satisfaction of having a coffee and reading the paper. What a terrible bike tourist I am! ^_^

Day 16 Tues April 12
Villafranca de Córdoba to Wildcamp in the mud 46 km Total KM 800
Min Meters 89, Max Meters 174
Total Climb 600, Total Descent 365
Min Temp 11 Max Temp 25 Ave Temp 16


Cycle Travel Here

Strava Here:

The Towns Along the Way

Córdoba
 
Day 17 Wed April 13

Still stuck in the mud (and why no-one likes the French ^_^ )

It was hardly a surprise that I slept late, awaking at 8 am and less of a surprise that no-one discovered me. I had a problem to tell the time since I had set my phone on "ultra battery saver" mode and the screen was impossible to read in daylight, so dim was it. A bit like myself, really ^_^ (There was no power from my hub at such low speeds yesterday and my powerbank charging had been interrupted the night before. Given that I didn't know how long until I'd make civilisation, last night I'd decided to use this mode for the first (and last!) time. Murphy's Law in action!)

A bright, sunny day can be worth a lot! It was still going to be tricky but look at where I am!


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I was low on water so only brewed one cup of coffee - I was going to need my caffeine - and ate some bread and cheese.
I cleaned the tent - the bottom and footprint were very muddy - and carried everything about half a km down the road to where the surface seemed to be better.
And it was better. For a while. But soon I was back to stopping and cleaning. First every 10 meters but soon every 5 or even less.

Spanish towns! ♥️
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A cyclist came opposite me sweating and struggling and a little later another. On gravel bikes with no mud guards they were struggling.
I was stopping.

A little gully along the path had water so I stopped and washed everything off the bike. It made no difference once I moved off again.
I set about removing the front mudguard as this was causing the most problems. Not the easiest of tasks with skinned knuckles.
It was while doing this, swearing, covered in mud that Veronica pulled up and offered assistance.
She passed on the good news that there were another 3kms or so of this surface!

A stretch that I could cycle on!
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Having not thought things through (and not being mechanically minded) I had been attempting to remove the mudguard in situ but of course the wheel had to come off too. Feeling like a klutz (and a fraud - yes, I've just arrived in Spain from South America on an epic bike trip but a Spanish rail Trail is too tricky for me^_^) I got the mudguard off with Veronica's help.

Obviously, Veronica was concerned for the the bumbling, incompetent bike tourist visiting her country and wanted to exchange phone numbers. She was very kind suggesting that it was for if I needed help. "If" is doing some heavy lifting in that sentence! ^_^

And this is the day that Dumbass can't use his phone! It's saving energy alright!

Veronica headed off back the way I had come while I laboured on. There was no way I was turning back now! After she had left I realised that the old underwear I had used to wash the bike in the water had been stretched out on my rackpack to dry in the sun! ^_^

I humbly acknowledge my nomination for Dumbass Bike Tourist of the year! Underwear. Mud. Muddy brown water. Do I need to paint a picture? ^_^

When I wasn't stuck in mud or mortifying myself in front of Señoritas it was a pretty good day
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I was actually able to ride for a while and whilst going along on the wrong side of the path I encountered another cyclist coming towards me - him on the wrong side too. I was happy to stay where I was but señor the law-is-the-law started nodding his head suggesting I move over to the proper side - which was also his side. I smiled and nodded to suggest we were both fine where we were but obviously afraid of a Police drone patrolling the Via Verde for lawbreakers he pulled over so that we were head on. I sighed and pulled into the slightly muddier "correct" side and in an act of pettiness didn't warn him about the conditions further along when he commented that this was tough going.

The going was becoming better as I progressed and I eventually arrived at Guadalcázar, or at least the edge of it. I didn't need the village since there was a recreation area with picnic tables and a water tap with water at a very high pressure.
I had everything I needed!

First up was coffee! I drank about 2 liters of water while waiting for the kettle to boil and took advantage of the high pressure from the tap to wash everything - myself included. I ate, I drank coffee and I felt like the most comfortable person in the world! Isn't relativity great?!
An older couple on E-bikes with panniers came along the path heading in my direction and I was quick to warn them of the conditions further along. Clean now with a clean bike and without the face of a man short on coffee I don't think they took me too seriously.

Behind me was an ominous cloud. Later in a purple fit of pique it would fire thunderbolts to the ground. That dispelled any lingering traces of self pity - I could have had that storm yesterday!
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I gave serious thought to just staying here so happy and comfortable was I but I reattached the mudguard, packed up and detoured into the village. Nothing happening except for a few students after finishing school and one of the least interesting towns so far.

I rejoined the Via Verde and hoped that my reattaching the mudguard wasn't tempting fate.

It was about 6:45 pm and I was confident of finding another wild camp spot along the path. For perspective, I had covered about 10km for the day so far ^_^
The path was better but I still had to stop twice to unclog the wheels. Behind me an epic storm was breaking out with fabulous lightning bursting out of angry purple clouds. According to my calculations I didn't need to worry that it would catch me.

Another cyclist passed me then waited for me further along the path. A very pleasant chap if not quite the full shilling we had a little chat and he headed off ahead of me. Again he waited for me, this time producing a can of Fanta from his bag as a gift for me before turning around and heading back. How kind!

Ahead of me peace and calm......
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I was happy to keep rolling along in the fading daylight but the countryside changed. Now a road ran parallel to me and farms (and farmhouses) were scattered around. All of a sudden a stealth camp was looking difficult. I knew there was a rest area about 35km along which should be suitable but that was a long, dark way away! Head down, I pushed on.

Not the most epic of scenery but pleasant, interesting and benign
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I came to the town of Écija and despite my haste I just had to slow down and appreciate the view. Now dark, the town has several churches and the steeples were lit up creating a wonderful view. (I counted five separate steeples!) Tempted, I whipped out my phone but Booking was far too expensive.
The ViaVerde disappeared around the town so I was depending on Gizmo to get me around. There would be no exploring here! Maybe I'd have a chance to camp before the rest area and could return in the morning.

For anyone contemplating travel along a Via Verde my experience is that access to towns along the way can be difficult if it requires leaving the VV and sometimes, like here, the path just disappears and you need the luck of a very lucky thing to just pick it up again.)

I wasn't out of the woods yet!
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I nearly missed it, so focused was I on zipping through on a busy ring road but there, to my left, was a campervan area. I turned off and assessed. It was overlooked by apartment blocks but there were lamp posts to lock the bike to. There were other campervans - all but two spaces were occupied and there was water. It looked a better and safer option than a Via Verde in the dark. There was waste ground beside it that I could use as well but that was lumpy and mucky. Nearly 10 pm, I sat down on a bench and ate my supper. Another campervan came along leaving one space free. At close to 10:30 I claimed it having read the information board and not seeing anything that explicitly banned tents.

Explicitly: in a way that is clear and exact (Cambridge English Dictionary)

I set up the tent on tarmac so no pegging out and for safety's sake decided to park Roccado in front to prevent any distracted driver from running me over. I was tired but happy and as comfortable as I could expect to be.

As I had been building the tent a man walked by a few times with a frying pan in his hand as if to wash it at the tap - but he never did. Not once did he return my greetings.
Just before bed time as I savoured my last ciggie of the day he approached me and spoke. In French.

Now, I don't really understand French but I could understand him. To be fair to the guy his meaning was pretty clear - I shouldn't be here.
At first I was bemused. The French threw me. I replied that it really wasn't safe for me to continue (it's heading on for 11:30 at night). It was forbidden, he continued. I pointed to the information board and I said that I could see nothing that prohibited a tent and asked him to point out where it did - in Spanish.

I was very surprised at his attitude. Each van had loads of space. In fact, a kinder soul would have invited me to pitch my tent beside his campervan - I would not have encroached on his space nor the neighbour's. My experience with other travellers is that they're far more likely to offer assistance than hindrance. But this was my first time in a campervan area. And he was French ^_^

He told me he was going to call the Police on me! Stunned, I asked him why to get a babble of incomprehensible French in return. I told him to go ahead and he left me alone.
Needing to calm down and to see if the Police would speedily respond to such nefarious criminal activity I lit another ciggie just as another campervan pulled in. Oh dear!

Señor Frenchie was over to them as fast as his forefathers fled from the Germans (Sorry, I was feeling very petty) and I could catch snippets of the conversation through the driver's window.
"No", the driver was explaining, they could move on far easier than me and Monsieur Mountain-out-of-Molehill was deflated. I nodded in gratitude as they turned around and received a wave and a smile in return.

I went to bed and slept.

Way, way behind schedule (whatever that is) I just had to stop and appreciate the tranquil beauty. Nowhere to pitch a tent but lots of space to savour
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Day 17 Wednesday April 13
Wildcamp in the mud to Écija 44 km Total KM 844
Min Meters 82, Max Meters 193
Total Climb 318, Total Descent 333
Min Temp 15 Max Temp 25 Ave Temp 36

Cycle Travel Here

Strava Here

The Towns Along the Way
Guadalcázar : https://photos.app.goo.gl/ksXpJmPUmwbnBJyu8
 

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Day 18 Thurs April 14


And into the Twilight Zone we go!

Not surprisingly I was a little jumpy and awoke easily at a strange noise. It seemed like the folks in the campervan next door were cleaning up and sweeping out the van. There was a lot of racket and some traffic but it was still dark. I fumbled for my phone and was a little disturbed to find it was 4 am!! I tried to look on the bright side - it wasn't the Police come to throw me in jail and went back to sleep thinking that maybe some kids had an "accident" and we've all been there.

Home, this morning


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I was up at 8 feeling quite refreshed and anxious to be packed and going before Frenchie arose for his croissants but was hampered and slowed by the people from other Canpervans coming over to say "Hola". Hola, not Bonjour because none of them were French! The thought did cross my mind that perhaps they had witnessed Frenchie last night and were attempting to compensate.

I finally got away and in such good form I decided to do a quick tour of the town before I left. With no bathroom facilities around I could do with a bathroom.
The late night cleaners were up too as I was leaving. A young couple with no trace of children anywhere. It seems they had an "accident" after what seemed to be a late night judging by their pale faces with a greenish tinge.

When I got out of town this was the Via Verde. A cleverer bike tourist would have stuck with the road. There were quite a few walkers that limited my pace as well as a lot of deep gravel. First chance I got back on the road.
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It is an interesting town and of course busy (by my standards) at that time of the morning. I found a café and had a simple but delicious breakfast of coffee and a tostada. It was very busy and a bar-tender was keeping the whole thing going on his own. It was a real pleasure to watch him work. There were lots of old and interesting buildings and I could have passed a lot of time here but the sky was blue, the sun was shining and the road was calling.

I hopped onto a cycle path and headed out of town on a quest to link up with the Via Verde.

I found it, right beside the main road but a tad higher and without thinking hopped on to it. This was loose, deep gravel that slowed me right down and there were a lot of walkers out and about so I was very slow. With the road to my left (but below me) and high ground immediately to my right my views were limited. I struggled on until I could get back on the road and then settled into a decent speed and rhythm. Traffic wasn't a concern. They were Spanish cars….. not French ^_^ (Nope! I have no idea when the random digs at the French will stop ^_^)

When the Via Verde broke away from the road I rejoined it and headed off into the countryside all on my lonesome.
It was a bit adventurous with the poor surface and weeds taking over in places.

No, it's not a great photo. But it's not meant to be. That orange on the ground fell down as I was walking past..... I'm in a place where oranges fall out of the trees!! I don't think I could be much happier!
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I reached Villanueva del Rey via these rough roads and found it a tiny place. It didn't detain me long and I took a break at a motorway services having a coffee and recharging my phone.
I followed the motorway for a while then off again onto rough roads.

Now, this was fun!
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I arrived in La Luisiana and rested in a quiet, shady Plaza. The sun is powerful! Very powerful! I was charmed that as I walked around oranges were falling from the trees!
Back onto the Via Verde and I was glad that I had Gizmo. At every town any signposts just disappear and we have to make our own way around. Without a GPS I'd be lost!

More rough roads and weeds taking over, my calves and feet (in sandals) taking a battering from the thorny plants!

Pleasant. That's not meant negatively. After the last couple of days "pleasant" is pretty damn good!
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I arrived into Fuentes de Andalucia at 15:30 - slap bang in the middle of Siesta!
I took a wander through the ghost town and was impressed at some of the street names. A main Plaza has temporarily been renamed Plaza of Ukraine and another is called "Free Palestine".

I had a very bizarre experience as I meandered around - a terrible squeaky noise coming from the bike. The wheels to be exact. It took a little while to determine the source and until I did it was freaking me out. In such a quiet, still environment it seemed very loud. It was only when another car passed me that I realised the sound was my tyres on the street. A bit like a 70's cop show on TV my tyres were screeching every time I changed direction. It must be something in the surface of the streets or to do with the sun blasting down.

I found myself impressed with the Ayuntamiento (local Government) in Fuente de Andalucia
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On the way out of town I found an open and busy restaurant so pulled up for a bite. The waiter was very friendly and I had a chat with the boss before I left too. Very friendly. Apparently, there's an Irish Professora (female teacher) and I think the guys were hoping that I'd know her what with Ireland being such a small place and that they could get the "inside track" on her. She seemed to inspire awe in the two boys and some trepidation so I was hoping I'd get to meet her. Alas no, and "teacher from Dublin" wasn't enough information for me to say definitively that I knew her. ^_^

Off I went again.

There's a farm track running parallel most of the way. It's ballpark the same quality as my bike lane. The variety of the vegetation was something to behold, though at times it wanted to hurt me!
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Now it was decision time. With no official camping options I was hoping to pitch up at a rest spot about 6km this side of Marchena. I could scope out the area, head into town to explore then double back. Alternatively, I could head for another rest area further past Marchena but that seemed a bit close to civilisation since the Via Verde finishes in Marchena

I don't normally enhance my photos but no justice was being served to the plant life. Very bright, very colourful and sometimes very sharp!
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I came across the rest area and figured that I could well use it. It was below the track and exposed but no-one would be out here after dark. Until darkness, though, I could expect a lot of company. Into town for a look around and I'll come back later.

I think it's been a while since I mentioned that I ❤️ approaching Spanish towns ^_^
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When I got to Marchena I got a bit of a shock. It was teeming with people! Terraces were full, people were drinking and lots of people were dressed up in fancy dress. There seemed to be a bit of a theme going on. I wanted to see more of this. I pushed around and up (some quite steep streets) and slowly what was going on dawned on me.

In my defence I've been travelling for a while and dates, even days of the week can get blurry. It was Holy Thursday and the start (to me) of the Easter Celebrations. Semana Santa as it is called in the Spanish world.
The clues for this I had been happily ignoring for the past week or so. Posters in each town, the float being prepared in Baños de Encina, the laid back attitude to dismantling the Palm Sunday infrastructure in Córdoba........
People plan trips to Spain to coincide with Semana Santa (it's huge for Pilgrims doing a Camino) and Dumbass blunders into it in a small, medieval town!

Oh yes! The town is wonderfully old!

I have no idea. This odd couple stopped me in my tracks. There's a story there. And no-one around to ask. I think I'm going to have to go back!
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To Be Continued......

Day 18 Thurs April 14
Écija to Marchena 60 km Total KM 904
Min Meters 96, Max Meters 197
Total Climb 500, Total Descent 338
Min Temp 14 Max Temp 39 Ave Temp 28

Cycle Travel Here

Strava Here:

The Towns Along the Way
Écija
Villanueva del Rey
La Luisiana
Fuentes de Andalucia
Marchena

Via Verde de la Campiña
 
Day 18 Thurs April 14

And into the Twilight Zone we go! Part II

I had vague notions of parades and statues but this was a chance to witness it all in the flesh! All of a sudden I didn't want to camp out 6km from town. I wanted to stay in town!
There was no campervan area and Booking wanted my inner organs as well as those of children yet to be born but Google threw up an odd offering. A convent! Worth a shot, I thought and I set off to find it in the old town - no easy task.

Out of all that I was going to see in the town over the evening this was one of my favourite sights. A simple, but unique tribute to two locals


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Donning my best Irish, Catholic brogue I asked in my best Catholic Spanish about the chance to stay for the night, possibly two (I was thinking maybe the whole weekend - what a great chance to witness something like this). The nun (for it was a nun I was dealing with through antique glass) was clearly able to see through my lapsed Catholic demeanour and was not impressed. A swift and resounding "No!" was the answer. I thanked her for her time, apologised for disturbing her (I had to ring a bell like summoning a demon) and was shuffling off when there was another "No" followed by a "Wait" in a tone that only a nun can use and that years of Catholic education resulted in me suddenly becoming a statue. I could hear a conference going on and then I was told there was a room for me for tonight! €30. Sold! I may have broken the ice with my enthusiastic gracias and obvious excitement because I'm sure the corners of her mouth turned up before the frown and steely glare returned. I paid, got my keys and raced into the shower - it had been a while and I didn't want her to change her mind!

I also did some laundry - the water was brown. Very, very brown!
Clean, dressed and full of excitement I set off.

Just one of several churches in the town. At first I thought the excitement around it was a Confirmation or Communion ceremony since there were a lot of very well dressed parents waiting outside. I only realised what was going on when a whole lot of young people came out in outfits that were first astonishing to me, then slowly made me uneasy.
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Wandering around without the bike was certainly easier and I could slip into the crowded streets like a local. I didn't look like a local though because those in "normal" garb were very elegant and elegant is not the adjective to describe my off the bike clothes (as if my on bike clothes are any better ^_^)

First up was some grub and rather than miss anything I grabbed a quick kebab. Depending on where I was walking I was either walking with or against people rushing somewhere.

Different angle. They've got mobile phones and sweets hidden under their outfits ^_^
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What I know now is that there is a parade (in fact there is a parade every day) that follows a route through the town visiting notable buildings (churches and statues). In an old, narrow, twisty steep town like this there seems to be no order to things at all but that's not the case. At all.

My first uneasiness came at a church at what at first I thought was a communion or confirmation celebration except that the kids were wearing robes and hoods.
I think what actually was going on was that the kids were getting a blessing of some kind before participating in the parade - they'd have a big rôle.
It was the costumes that put me off. Think KKK but in a burgundy/red rather than white. I know it's not my country but I found it uncomfortable.

I don't know what it's called. I think there may be a few different ones. Or perhaps the figures on top change. I found it interesting how my enthusiasm waned as the evening wore on. And continued waning. The one advantage I had was that as the procession moved around town there were often areas that I had to myself. I'd have a chat with myself and tackle the madness again. Never successfully.
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There were adults dressed similarly too, although I didn't see them at first and that really made me uneasy. There isn't a country in the world that the Holy Roman Catholic Church hasn't had problems with child abuse and the idea that church figures were going around robed with hidden faces made me very uncomfortable.

Then to add to the discomfort a loud, steady, ominous drumming entered my consciousness. There was a definite military tone to it. It didn't sit well with me. I set off to find out what this was and as it turned out it was the parade.

Later, and they're still going!
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I don't have the vocabulary to describe what I saw and I've no real urge to look it up on my phone but essentially a very fancy carriage carried by people hosts an elaborate statue that is paraded around the town. Accompanying this ostentatious work of art are priests, and a long, long stream of kids in these strange habits as well as a band. For the moment only the drums are beating but at other times a whole brass section kicks in. What's bizarre is that there's a huge number of people carrying this carriage over their heads but shielded from view by hanging drapes. All we can see is their feet. And their feet all move in unison but making tiny, tiny advances. Turning is a major operation and I could not figure out how it was all coordinated.

The older and grumpier I get the more I rebel against ostentation
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Getting a view of this is not easy. The streets are packed. There's a whole lot of people back at the bars and restaurants but there's a massive number watching. Video cameras record it for posterity and local TV.
Some people, mainly the older ones will follow the parade while others will wander off when it has passed their vantage spot. This is not a fast process. It moves very, very slowly.
At last! I've found something that moves slower than me!^_^

Imitating the walk to Calvary
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At first, I had been captivated and enthralled but as time went on I became more and more unsettled.
For one thing it was beyond amazing to me that this is the same religion that I was dragged up with. There's nothing like this in Ireland! Holy Catholic Ireland being outdone by foreigners! I could understand being confused if I was watching a Muslim or Hindu celebration but I'm supposed to "get" this?

The costumes made me uneasy and while I can appreciate the values of tradition I just can't believe that people are still going around robed and hooded. In a Catholic feast of all things! There's no way that this is just thrown together at the last minute. We can be pretty sure that a whole lot of practice goes into this. I did not feel comfortable. At all.

On top of all this was the incense. They say that smell is one of the great kick starters of memory and I have no good memories of incense. I don't like the stuff. At all. As time passed the dislike grew to something beyond dislike.

But the other thing that filtered through as time wore on was the complete falseness of the whole extravaganza. The vast, vast majority of people there had little or no interest (that I could determine) in the actual religion of the whole thing - it was essentially a party. A part of the cycle of the year. Something to look forward to, prepare for and to celebrate the survival of another winter and to get ready for the summer. Parents were there to support their kids, abuelos for their grandkids. Photos and videos for Social Media. Outfits chosen for style not the ceremony. At the start I felt clueless as to what was going on, later I realised that I wasn't much more clueless than most there.

And a band! At one stage everything and everyone fell silent only for the stillness to be pierced by the sound of a beer bottle first falling on, then rolling down the cobbled street. Over the sound of that glass on cobbles I heard the sound of an old way of life giving way to something different. I've no time for the Church or for religion generally, but I still felt sad at the inevitable death of something.
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I walked around some more discovering a lovely park that I had all to myself and wandering the streets of the old town. I had a coffee from a lovely old man and just watched. There wasn't massive drunkenness (but this is only the first day! This is repeated with variations until Sunday!) but it struck me as being very similar to any kind of a "party" day that a town or country might have.

In a different part of the old town. It does the grand tour!
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Much, much later I caught up with the parade again, a much smaller crowd this time, nearly all elderly and I wondered what it must be like for the believers to see their deeply held beliefs and celebrations turned into a party with stands selling toys and food and drink.

I retired late once I figured out that I had seen all I wanted to see. My curiosity sated, my enthusiasm well and truly dashed. I'm glad I got to see it but I wouldn't be in a rush back.

Getting away from the madness for a little and the Touring Gods looked after me. Palm trees. I do like my Palm trees
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